#ROW80 check-ins, revising, writing

Sprinkling in Details in Our Writing: How much to share—and when

by Myndi Shafer, WANA Commons
by Myndi Shafer, WANA Commons

Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received didn’t come out of a creative writing workshop. No, I learned it at the copy desk of my college newspaper, where I spent each Saturday hunched over pages with a colored pen, making news article polished and shiny and ready for the world. (UPDATE: I’m not bashing workshops here. The creative writing workshops I took as an undergrad and grad student have helped me immensely as a writer.)

We were reading over an article that featured a lot of background information. My college journalism professor—who also spent each Saturday hunched over those pages—told us not to give the background upfront. “Sprinkle it in,” he said.

When writing a first draft, we’re often tempted to put all the details in the first few chapters. This is well-intentioned—we want to ground the reader. But too much detail all at once is overwhelming. In later drafts, we can pare down large sections of exposition. And that’s where sprinkling comes in. What do we sprinkle? A few items immediately spring to mind:

Character backstory

We don’t need to know a character’s tragic past in the first chapter—often times, referencing that tragedy briefly will intrigue readers and keep them reading. There might be a Big Reveal, when a crucial memory/incident is shared, but most character details can be sprinkled.

World-building

This is especially true for those of us who write fantasy or science fiction—we need to share how magic or technology works, the rules of our world, geography, history, cultural details, etc. But readers don’t need to know all the ins and outs of our world—the size of the capital city, how a piece of technology works, the political structure of the society, or the rules of magic—all up front. We can share details as they’re needed to ground the reader, but in general, the less exposition in the first few chapters, the better.

Setting

We should carefully pick and choose details of the setting to share. The layout of a room might be important, for example, but the details of each oil painting on the walls can probably wait. We can avoid a lot of references to weather unless they’re clearly necessary. As with world-building details, readers need to feel grounded—they need sensory detail to draw them into the world we’ve created on the page—but the setting shouldn’t overwhelm the action. A few well-chosen details can go a long way, especially if they evoke one or more of the five senses.

Description

Each detail should do more than one thing. For example, if we describe a character’s outfit, does her wardrobe reveal something about her character—her socioeconomic status, her personality, her career, how she sees herself, etc.? If we describe a character’s facial features, what do those features say about his personality or how he’s reacting to the events of the plot?

The key is never to overwhelm the reader with details. Instead, like my journalism professor said, we sprinkle those details throughout, interspersed with action and dialogue to create a page-turner.

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished.
  • Write a first draft of a novella novelette. Finished—“Called by Magic,” 13K.
  • Start work on another novelette. Wrote 2,590 words. I had some problems with the second chapter, so I spent yesterday working those out before adding any new material.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Reading a fifth book, “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.
  • Blog two times per week. On track.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop.

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#ROW80 check-ins, revising, writing process

When writing is like wrestling an alligator: A midweek ROW80 check-in

Last week, revising my story felt like wrestling an alligator. There were a few moments where I just sat there trying not to pull my hair out. I had one chapter left to revise, near the end of the story, only something wasn’t right. It was one of those scenes where earlier pieces come together, only the pieces weren’t fitting properly.

So I hit the pause button and created a chapter-by-chapter outline of what happens in the story, complete with scene locations and timestamps. I found a couple things: One, the timestamps in the middle of the story were out of order. Two, the reason that later chapter didn’t work was because of the setup in the middle. So I decided that, before I called the second draft done, more work was in order. I spent Saturday afternoon staring at the outline, formulating a plan. I know the story will be stronger for it.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re almost finished with a draft only to realize that the story needs yet more attention. Now that I have a solution, I’m happy to be implementing it. But for a while, when I knew what was wrong but not how to fix it, yes, writing this story felt a lot like wrestling an alligator…

Which leads to a midweek ROW80 check-in…

ROW80LogocopyWriting:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised/rewrote two scenes. Every chapter has been revised, but I made some changes to the middle of the story that have a ripple effect, so I’m trying to smooth things out. Also dealing with smaller, nitty-gritty issues, like making sure the timeline of the story is clear.
  • Write a first draft of another novella novelette. Finished at 13K!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Goal met!

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for Tuesday and Wednesday, not for Monday.
  • Blog two times per week. On track to meet this goal.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

denise signature

#ROW80 check-ins, revising

Revising a manuscript: How do you know when a draft is finished?

How do you know when a draft of a story is done? For me, a first draft is finished when I’ve written it from beginning to end—it might be rough, but the story is on the page.

But subsequent drafts are harder to judge. In my view, the second draft is finished when all the major issues that you know of are resolved. Any research that needs to be done is completed. All plot holes (that you’re aware of ) are filled in. You’ve integrated your critique partners’ or beta readers’ comments into the story.

10969657603_bbbcbc3421_z notebook by Shan Jeniah Burton WANA Commons
photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, WANA Commons

Third drafts and beyond follow the same pattern. We share the story with our critique partners or beta readers and read through the manuscript again. Any problems or concerns that are noted are addressed. Language is polished. Typos are fixed. With every draft, the story is more polished, closer to being ready for the wide world to see. Eventually, the language shines. All aspects of story, from structure to character arc to description, have been addressed. It might take some of us three drafts. It might take others eight.

I’ve been working on second draft of a novella for the past couple months. Some of these criteria have been met. Most of my CPs’ comments have been addressed. But there are still some problems with the middle of the story that need to be dealt with. This past week, I felt like I was playing Jenga. I would change something in one chapter only to realize that that changed the course of events in several more chapters. These seemed like small changes, but they had a ripple effect.

I know the story will be stronger when all is said and done. This week I’ll pull or rework scenes from the middle of the story. Sooner or later, this story will shine.

Sunday ROW80 check-in:

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote 4,859 words, including a rough synopsis. Three chapters revised/rewritten. I’ve decided to make some changes to the middle of the story, so I’m not as close to finished as I thought—but the story is improving.
  • Write a first draft of a novella novelette. Finished!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Finished “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Target met.
  • Blog two times per week. Target met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? How do you decide when you’ve finished a draft of a story?

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#ROW80 check-ins, editing, revising, writing process

Setting the Tone for a Novel or Story

Last week, I hit a bit of a brick wall with my WIP. Right at the end, too. At first, I thought it was fear, but then I realized that I wasn’t sure about the tone of my story, and that was throwing me off. Is this a romping romantic adventure, or is it a serious story that plumbs emotional depths?

This is especially tough for me because endings are usually the easy part for me. I can see the finish line, and I’m running toward it so fast I’m practically a speeding blur.

Tone is important to the climax and resolution of our stories. This year, I’m determined not just to write more drafts, but to write better drafts—in other words, first drafts that, while they’re still rough, don’t require major, sweeping rewrites or, worse, starting from scratch. Maybe I was a little overly ambitious to think that by plotting and planning, I could avoid the same sort of major overhauls previous manuscripts have required. (Hey, it’s live and learn, right?)

Without fully knowing the tone of our stories, it’s hard to keep writing. Resolutions are especially hard to get right without knowing the tone because the climax is where all the story threads meet.

It’s sort of a chemical reaction. If we don’t know the tone of the story, how do we know what will happen when we mix those things together? Will it be a hot, foamy mess or a massive explosion?

What can we do when this happens? I’m trying a few different approaches:

Identify the appropriate tone for the story.

Write a short sentence or paragraph about the overall feel/tone of our story. Is it a lighthearted, funny story? Is it gritty and dark? Is it a cozy mystery? Try to summarize this “feeling” in one or two sentences.

Daily Writing Tips offers this helpful tip:

The genre often determines the tone — thrillers use tight, lean phrasing, romances (hearty adventures as well as adventures of the heart) tend to be more effusive and expressive, comedies more buoyant, and so on. Some writing guides suggest that if you’re unsure about what tone to adopt for fiction, you visualize the book as a film — doesn’t everybody do that anyway these days? — and imagine what emotions or feelings its musical soundtrack would convey.

Read a few stories that have a tone similar to the one we’re aiming for.

Once we’ve settled on the appropriate tone, it helps to identify similar stories. Read closely and notice how all the different aspects of the story—the dialogue, the characterization, the setting, the description, the word choice—help to create the tone.

Identify where the tone is working in the story.

Forget about where the tone isn’t working. Where is it working? For example, I feel like the first chapter of my WIP sets the tone I want to convey in the rest of the story, and there’s a scene in the middle that has really snappy dialogue and great pacing that reflect what I’m looking for. Identifying and rereading those scenes can help us carry that tone through the next scene we’re working on.

Note: Plenty of authors advise not rereading while you’re writing a first draft. That’s great advice and probably works for a lot of people, but it’s not for me. Maybe it’s not for you either. For example, right now I know what I need to write. I know that I could sit down and write the ending. I also know that, until I get my bearings, that’s not the correct course of action—for me. Pressing pause for a few days won’t hurt my story or my process, and in fact, will probably help me avoid the worst of those massive rewrites.

Midweek ROW80 check-in

1ROW80Logocopy.) Finish a draft of Good, Old-Fashioned Magic: Wrote 972 words. Hopefully I start writing again later this week.

2.) Reading to hone my craft: Finished reading “2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” by Rachel Aaron. I definitely recommend it. I also started the second to last chapter of Julia Cameron’s “Walking in This World.”

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays: On target.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week: On target.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday: On target.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project. No progress on this front. I did write an article to submit to another publication—that sort-of counts, right? 😉

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

What do you do when you’re struggling with finishing a story? Any advice for fellow writers on nailing the tone of a story? Do you worry about tone in a first draft, or is that more of a second draft concern for you? Do you write your first drafts without stopping?

#ROW80 check-ins, revising, writing process, writing updates

When the story veers off course–and midweek ROW80 check-in

Sometimes, the words flow like raindrops in a summer downpour. And then, that downpour is immediately followed by a dry spell.

I know the reason: I realized late last week as I sat down to write that I was headed in the wrong direction in my WIP. Part of me wanted to keep going, but that seems a bit like driving 15 miles in the wrong direction on the interstate because I took a wrong turn. No, the best thing to do is to pull over, figure out where I went wrong, retrace my steps, and get the story back on track.

And this despite the fact that I have an outline. I see now that part of the problem is that there are holes in the outline—why would the villain do X instead of Y, when Y is his normal modus operandi? How will his sudden change bring the heroine face to face with her greatest fears, and what’s the best way to show that on the page? What will she learn about herself and how will she change as a result?

So the beginning of this week hasn’t led to much writing, mostly just slogging through the story trying to identify the moment things veered off course and set them back on the correct path. Today, I have a new scene planned out that should help with that. This week is less about word count and more about re-envisioning some of my scenes—even though I’m so close to the end of this story I can feel it, and I really want to race toward The End.

Still, the beginning of the week hasn’t been completely unproductive. I went to a concert Monday night, and the music, a mix of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” with some Bach and Tchaikovsky thrown in, was the perfect backdrop for writing inspiration to strike. I began picturing scenes from a short story and, by the end of the performance, not only was I swept away by the music (the performance was fantastic!), but I also had a clearly formed idea for that story in my head.

I spent part of Tuesday jotting down notes and writing a brief synopsis for that story, a short but stinging sequel to the story I’m currently working on. 🙂

I also decided to go back and do Barbara Samuel’s Voice Worksheet again. I attended her voice workshop a couple years ago at a writing conference, and it provided great insight into my writing. It’s been a while since I’ve done any voice exercises, so I decided to give the worksheet a go. It was definitely worth revisiting.

ROW80 midweek check-in

ROW80Logocopy1.) Finish a draft of “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic”: 2,700 to 3,000 words per week. Behind on this goal, since I’m revising instead of adding to the word count.

2.) Read to hone my craft: Making progress on this front.

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays: On track to meet this goal.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week. On track to meet this goal.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track so far.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project. No progress yet this week.

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Do you ever do any writing exercises when you’re struggling with a WIP or need a change of pace? Which are your favorites?

Do you ever realize your WIP is heading in the wrong direction? If so, how do you get your story back on track?

And how are your goals coming along this week?

#ROW80 check-ins, revising

Scene Revision: 4 common reasons why a scene doesn’t work

I spent the second half of last week revising chapter three in my WIP, a novella entitled “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” I needed to send that chapter off to my critique partners for our monthly meeting of the minds. The problem was that I wasn’t happy with that scene. The scene just didn’t work. I hate sending material off to someone else before I’ve fixed the obvious stuff, so I sat down and reread the scene a couple times. Eventually, I was able to identify a few key aspects of the scene and tinker with them. It’s still not perfect, but the revised scene works much better. (We’ll see what my crit partners have to say about that.)

I’ve noticed a pattern with scenes in early drafts. We become so caught up in getting the words on the page and meeting our word-count goals that sometimes we forget to slow down and really enter the scene. I’ve identified a few common reasons a scene doesn’t work. Do these ever happen to you?

Reason No. 1: The scene lacks clear turning points.

HPIM0998
photo by Denise D. Young

According to Donald Maass in “The Fire in Fiction,” every scene needs both an outer and an inner turning point:

“[Outer turning point:] The way in which things change that everyone can understand; [inner turning point:] the way in which the scene’s point-of-view character changes as a result.” (Maass)

In the scene I mentioned above, the characters in my story are on the run in the middle of the forest, far from civilization and far from help, at risk of both hypothermia and goblin attack. The conflict was clear, but the turning points needed some fine tuning. My scene had a clear outer turning point, which I won’t specifically mention here, but the inner turning point needed more work to be fully revealed.

We have to ask ourselves: What role does our scene play in the overall plot? Some external thing needs to happen that takes our character further from his/her goal and escalates the conflict, but something needs to happen inside him/her as well—a feeling, a fear, a realization must be unlocked.

Reason No. 2: The characters are behaving inconsistently.

This tends to happen to me a lot in early drafts, partly because I don’t know my characters very well yet. I’m still testing how they would react in a situation. Would they attempt to diffuse tension with humor? Would they be confrontational or would they withdraw?

This can also happen when I’m racing through a scene or trying to meet my word count. I become so focused on getting my characters somewhere else that I forget to slow down and live the scene through their eyes.

Are our characters under- or overreacting in ways that don’t fit into their personalities? If so, we need to step back and step into their shoes, dive down into their thoughts, feelings, motivations, and inner worlds. That often helps get the scene back on track.

Reason No. 3: The scene is stuck in transition.

In early drafts, we often write scenes that, while they’re necessary background for us as writers, don’t do much to thrill readers or add to the story. Or maybe we don’t know where to go next—or how to get there—so we end up watching our characters eat breakfast. Eating breakfast is boring—unless it’s immediately interrupted by a zombie attack or a fire-breathing dragon.

During the revision stage, we can often cut these scenes or merge them into the next scene or chapter. If you think the scene really does need to stay, return to reason No. 1 and try to uncover the scene’s true purpose in the overall story.

Reason No. 4: The writer is forcing the story to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go.

We have a well-laid out plan, so we write the next scene in our outline. Unfortunately, the story has since evolved, beyond our plan and away from our early outline. Stories often surprise us and, in the midst of writing, we realize that the scene we’re writing fits the story as we initially envisioned it, not as it currently exists.

In my current WIP, I began writing the next scene on my outline, only to realize that the events of that scene seemed like they belonged in a different story. As my world had evolved, that scene no longer belonged. By allowing myself to change course, I found the story flowed much more naturally.

Sunday ROW80 check-in

ROW80Logocopy1.) Finish a draft of “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic”: 2,700 to 3,000 words per week. Wrote 2,905 words this week. Most of that was earlier in the week, since I spent the second half revising.

2.) Read to hone my craft. Continued reading Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World” and Donald Maass’ “The Fire in Fiction.”

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays: Target met.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week: Met for Twitter, not WANA Tribe. (I have been really bad at that one.)

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday: Target met.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project: No progress to report this week.

How are your goals coming along this week? What common reasons do you find a scene you’ve written doesn’t quite work? How do you solve this problem?

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants, or check out the #ROW80 hashtag on Twitter.

#ROW80 check-ins, revising, writing process, writing updates

2nd chapter woes & an #ROW80 check-in

Is it just me, or are second chapters hard to write?

Maybe it depends on the nature of the story, but I often find myself stumbling on chapter two, rewriting over and over and trying to figure out where to go next. Part of this problem tends to be that I don’t know exactly where to go. I started out strong with a fresh idea and characters I found intriguing, but now I’m getting into the heart of the story and I realize that I don’t know what they’d do next or I don’t know enough about the world to figure out what will happen next. In a sense, it’s that transition from “something really strange happens” in chapter one to the rest of act one that’s killing me.

This go-around, I’m trying to solve that problem by doing some plotting and writing backstory before I plunge in. Still, just because you know what needs to happen doesn’t mean that the words will flow—and they haven’t been coming easily.

That said, I managed to finish chapter two of my WIP and dash off the first couple pages of the third chapter earlier this week. Chapter two still needs some serious revamping, however. The dialogue feels flat and expected, too repetitive and lacking in tension and double-duty details. The chapter picks up at the end, but I need to rework the first two scenes—probably condense them. For a novella, it’s a lot of conversation and backstory that doesn’t get us very far, and the relationship between the characters feels off. I’m happy with the pacing in the first chapter, and chapter three is shaping up to be action-filled. I just need to get chapter two moving with romantic tension and snappy, engaging dialogue.

Still, the important part is that there are words on the page and I have a sense of how to rewrite those pages—freshen and tighten the dialogue, strengthen the romantic tension between the characters, and prepare them for the fast-paced sequence of events that will follow. I also need to convey the necessary world-building information in a way that’s concise and doesn’t feel like a data dump or repeat something the reader already knows.

In my quest to write more cohesive first drafts, I’m also using Jami Gold’s beat sheet for romance writers. If you’re a romance writer–and especially if you’re also a pantser–I highly recommend it. It’s a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, and you can customize it to your target word-count. That’s definitely helped me get back on track when I get lost in the forest of my story.

ROW80Logocopy#ROW80 midweek check-in

  • Write and revise one chapter per week of WIP. Progress: I’ve finished writing chapter two and am working on revising it. I probably won’t get chapter three revised this week, but I’d like to finish as much of it as possible. A finished rough draft of chapter three would be great, but that might be pushing it.
  • Read to hone my craft: I still need to read more in Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World” and Roz Morris’ “Nail Your Novel” this week.
  • Post on the blog Wednesdays and Sundays: Today’s post complete!

I know that some of you struggle with first chapters and others with last chapters. For me, I think I struggle most with second chapters for reasons that aren’t fully clear to me. What’s the hardest part of your story to write? What tools do you use to overcome that stumbling block? Any advice for penning a well-crafted, engaging second chapter?

I hope everyone’s having a great week and making progress toward their goals!

revising, romance, writing

5 Lessons All Writers Can Learn from Romantic Suspense Authors

When I was working on revising and tightening the plot of my first paranormal romance novel, MADE OF SHADOWS, I read a lot of romantic suspense. Though most of the books I read didn’t have paranormal elements (but some did), I learned plenty from reading tightly written books that packed heat and romantic tension in with smoking guns and characters on the run from crazed killers hell-bent on revenge.

Talented authors of romantic suspense know how to create plots that interweave the development of the hero and heroine’s relationship with an action-packed mystery. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my favorite romantic suspense authors.

1.)  “Start the story 10 seconds before all hell breaks loose.” –Mary Burton

When I attended a workshop on writing romantic suspense earlier this year, author Mary Burton offered plenty of tips on how to write a good novel in the genre. But it was this phrase that stood out to me the most because it applies to every genre. All was normal in Kansas until a twister whisked Dorothy off to Oz. Frodo was enjoying his uncle’s birthday party in the Shire until Gandalf showed up to inform him that he had to deliver an evil ring to the fires of Mount Doom. In each story, we might get a taste of the usual, but we’re immediately plunged into chaos.

2.)  Be mean REALLY MEAN to your characters.

One of my professors in graduate school used to tell us to chase our characters up a tree and then throw rocks at them. We wouldn’t have fallen in love with Frodo and Sam if they’d stayed in the Shire. We love them because Tolkien put them through hell. We went along with them because we wanted to see them make it.

Except Tolkien, perhaps no one knows how to put characters through hell better than a romantic suspense author. Rebecca York is one of the best. By the end of her novels, her characters have been shot at, framed, abducted, or chased by the killer (or, in some cases, by the police or a government agency); they’ve witnessed crimes and narrowly escaped death. But it’s that ticking bomb that keeps readers turning the pages. Romantic suspense authors don’t just throw rocks at their characters. They set the tree and fire and then start heaving boulders. Regardless of genre, we always want the reader to be thinking, “How the heck are they going to get out of this one?”

3.)  Let the characters drive the plot.

Romantic suspense melds both a love story and a happily-ever-after ending with a sometimes gritty tale of crime and mayhem. They’re fulfilling the conventions and reader expectations of two genres simultaneously. It can’t be an easy task. It would be all too easy to let the writer take over and start steering the plot in the right direction.

But the most successful novels in this genre don’t allow the writer to force the story. Instead, the characters are behind the wheel, their steps and missteps fueling the plot. It’s their flaws that get them into messes (pride, stubbornness, a false sense of invincibility, a need for revenge). Only if the characters grow and evolve—learning to trust each other while overcoming their weaknesses and accepting their limitations along the way—can they make it through the situation in one piece. If we’re stuck on a particular plot point, sometimes it can help us to stop saying “What needs to happen?” and start saying “What would character X do in this situation?”

4.)  Give your characters a higher purpose and deeper longing.

Characters in romantic suspense novels have a clear goal: catch the killer, diffuse the ticking bomb, or rescue a kidnapping victim. But while that’s their goal, it isn’t their motivation. We can find it easy to say, “What does my character want?” but harder to ask, “Why does he/she want it?” Talented romantic suspense authors know what drives their characters. They know that Sally became an FBI agent because her mother was murdered and the killer is still at large. They know that Tom, the rogue PI, is willing to help Sally because she reminds him of someone he once failed and offers him a shot at redemption. It’s not enough to diffuse the bomb or stop a serial killer; the characters need a deep-rooted longing that fuels their quest—even if they don’t recognize what truly motivates them.

5.)  How to write a fast-paced, page-turner of a book.

Most romantic suspense novels aren’t 600-page tomes. Instead, they’re action-packed and tightly written. If you struggle with deciding which scenes to keep and which to delete, reading a handful of romantic suspense novels can offer guidance as to how to keep the plot moving. It would be easy for these characters to spend an entire chapter locked in a dingy hotel room plotting their next move, but something always happens that puts a snag in their plans, forcing the characters—and the plot—to move forward. Through reading romantic suspense, I’ve learned how to keep my characters moving.

What about you? What are some of the best lessons you’ve learned from your favorite authors?

paranormal romance, revising, writing process

Out of the Story’s Nebula: Structure in the Second Draft

Every manuscript is its own creature. Some stories are upfront, divulging so much information your fingers can’t type fast enough.

The first draft of Pierce My Heart, a meager 15K, was meant to be a concise introduction to the fae and their world. But my crit group pointed out that I could do one of two things: Scale back the conflict and keep it short, or dig into a more complex plot and expand.

I chose to expand. Pierce My Heart weaves together a dark, gritty who-done-it and a love story. Lithe and Garien’s potential romance is fraught with conflicts, namely, Lithe’s status as an outsider. Lithe’s chief conflict is a struggle within herself to face and accept who she is. The murder that she and Garien must solve serves as an external reminder of that conflict and why she can’t give herself to Garien.

When I sat down to write draft two, something strange happened with this story.

It sort of, well, opened up, and blew apart. It went from a tight little story to this nebulous creature I can’t pin down.

And strangest of all, I can’t shake the feeling that my characters—or the story itself—are hiding something from me.

There are several things of which I am sure:

1. This is a good story with plenty of potential. The pieces are there, even if I can’t figure out how they fit together.

2. The issue is one of form and structure.

3. I am overlooking something, and it will drive me crazy until I figure out what.

4. I am capable of figuring out what that something is.

So, fellow writers, have you been there? What do you do when a story enters the nebula, when you feel like you’re missing something but you don’t know what? How do you help the manuscript find or retake its shape?

A few days ago, I mentioned on Twitter that my “creative mojo” appeared to be missing. Debra Krager (@debrakristi) sagely advised: “You need a mojo lifter? Maybe a weekend off. Do something different and fun to find it.” She also blogged about this very subject here. (Timing really is everything.)

Somehow I have to work this weekend (day-job stuff). I’m not thrilled, but deadlines are deadlines, and no one’s going to hold the presses so I can have some fun.

But heck, maybe I’ll squeeze it in anyway. Perhaps a dose of silly creativity will give me the jolt I need to put the pieces together.

revising, Uncategorized, writing updates

A New Critique Service for Writers:

So I just received word that YA writer and my crit partner Kathleen Foucart has unveiled her new website and her critique service is now open for business. Kathleen and I met in graduate school and have been critiquing each other’s work ever since. She is a talented writer and an amazing person, someone who’s well-read and who has the patience to follow a manuscript from the seed of an idea to a fully grown and well-polished story.

In celebration of the launch of her new website, Kathleen is offering a chance to win one of two free first-chapter critiques (contest open now through Oct. 6). So make sure to pop over, find out more about the contest, and say hi. Read more here.

In other writing news, when I’m not grading papers or writing/editing for the magazine, I’m making my way through revising Pierce My Heart. Grading papers reminds me of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Those mops keep appearing and appearing and appearing. This semester, papers seem to do the same thing. Thank goodness for pastries and coffee; they’ve seen me through plenty of cram sessions as a writer, a student, and a teacher!

I’m pondering jumping into the next round of A Round of Words in 80 Days. Kristen Lamb is offering a “Blog to Build Your Brand” workshop in October and November, and I’ll be doing that is well. It’s going to be a busy rest of the year, but hopefully 2012 sees me querying manuscripts. I’ll be querying Pierce My Heart, at minimum.

Side Note: The Autumn Reads Amazon gift-card contest is open through Oct. 8, if you’re interested.

And now…

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